Meet the rebel poet who pioneered Symbolism and inspired Bob Dylan, Arthur Rimbaud
French poet Arthur Rimbaud was a prolific artist when he was a teenager. At once bohemian, provocative, idealistic and avant-garde, his works inspired Dylan’s songs and helped launch a whole new art form that we still use today.
From the beginning, Arthur Rimbaud considered the vocation he had chosen rather as a spiritual one. In his two letters titled “Letters from the Seer”, 16-year-old Rimbaud compared poets to “seers” and strove to become seer himself by losing his own individual consciousness and being invaded by ” the unknown”. The unknown, in this case, being the music of the universe, the greatest life force, or the deity itself.
Reaching this unknown, according to Rimbaud, would be the greatest achievement, “because he cultivated his own soul – which was rich to begin with – more than any other man!…even if he eventually lost the understanding of his visions, at least he saw them!”
Arthur Rimbaud helped create symbolist poetry.
To accomplish this task, he developed a creative process known as “all senses disorder”, exposing himself to fasting, pain, alcohol, drugs – any mind-altering substance or activity , basically. Which probably looks like a typical artist. But you know, Rimbaud did it before It was cool.
Unconventional methods or not, they opened his mind to creative innovation. By trying to sum up his dreamy visions in words, Rimbaud helped create an entirely new form of poetry that rejected the doctrines of realism and naturalism in what is now known as symbolism. By escaping the clutches of strict language patterns, Rimbaud allowed for a more formless poem structure, letting the images and their associations determine the form of the poem. Thus began the prose poem.
It’s no wonder that Dylan, a venerable creator of “vision music”, often cited Rimbaud as his favorite poet. “When I read those words, the bells rang. It made perfect sense. I wish someone had told me sooner,” he wrote in ‘Chronicles vol 1.’
You can definitely see Rimbaud’s influence in the lyrics to “Like a Rolling Stone”, for example. Although it’s a fun rock anthem, the structure and word choices make a lot more sense.
Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone (Official Audio)
At 17, Rimbaud wrote one of his now most famous works, ‘Le Bateau ivre’, which tells the story of a tipsy boat freed from restraint and succumbing to elemental forces… ostensibly bringing it all back to the themes of the journey into the unknown. Her work caught the attention of well-regarded poet Paul Verlaine, and so began a passionate and tumultuous love affair as rocky as the seas in Rimbaud’s poem.
A boss-turned-lover, Verlaine invited young Rimbaud to his home, which sparked a wild, drug-induced, and recurring romantic relationship between the two. The affair was so tumultuous and chaotic that Verlaine shot Rimbaud in a drunken rage. It’s a hell of a lovers’ quarrel.
“Par la table” by Henri Fantin-Latour portrays Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud and others.
Their final bitter farewell gave way to a deeply existential crisis for Rimbaud, leaving him disillusioned with all his ideals, both personal and creative, which he reflected in his work “Une saison en enfer”, aka “Une saison en enfer”. . Rimbaud shares the hell of his chaotic attraction to Verlaine, as well as “the failure of his own overambitious aesthetic”, according to Britannica. The book ends with a piece simply titled “Adieu”, which many conceive of as a farewell to poetry itself, at least in the distinctive voice that Rimbaud has carved out for himself.
After that, silence. At least for his poetry. Rimbaud set aside the philosophical unknown and instead opted for physical adventure, traveling the Alps, visiting Egypt, and eventually going back and forth to Africa in the employ of a coffee trader. Which to me sounds like an old fashioned way to ditch your beloved blog and go work for Starbucks. Sad.
Rimbaud only returned home to Paris one last time before dying at the age of 37 from what at first appeared to be arthritis, then later diagnosed as bone cancer. And so the life of the prodigious and prolific writer was cut short. Not without making a lasting mark on poetry.
In a poem entitled “Alchimie du Verbe”, Rimbaud laments his failures, writing “I flattered myself that I had invented a poetic language which, one day or another, would be understood by all”. Like many true visionaries, Rimbaud never saw his dreams actually come true.
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